It is May, which means it is National Melanoma/Skin Cancer Detection and Prevention Month!

It’s also the time of year when everyone has come out of hibernation and will be spending a lot more time outdoors in the sun.

With plenty of yard work, beach trips and time at the pool in our near future, it is important for us to brush up on our SPF knowledge.

If you take away anything from this blog, know this…

Wearing sunscreen is the number one most important step for the health of your skin!

Make sure to watch the TED ED link I included at the bottom of the page. It is an informative and funny visual for some the information I cover in this blog. I quoted this next little piece of information directly from that link because I couldn’t have said it any better.

 “Wearing sunscreen helps protect against the development of all three types of skin cancer:

  • Basel Cell Carcinoma
  • Squamous Cell Carcinoma
  • Melanoma

 On a daily basis the DNA in your cells is developing mutations and errors that are generally handled by machinery in your cells. BUT ultraviolet rays from the sun lead to mutations a cell might not be able to overcome, leading to uncontrolled growth and eventual skin cancer. The scariest thing about this is usually you can’t even see it happening until it’s too late. BUT, if these concrete risks are not enough to convince you to use sunscreen, there are esthetic reasons as well. Along with cigarette smoking, sun damage is the leading cause of premature aging.”

Yikes! Where is my SPF?!

There is so much information out there regarding sunscreens and their labeling, and at the very minimum you should be able to answer the below questions to make the best choices for your SPF protection:

~ What is the difference between a physical sunscreen  and chemical sunscreen?

~ What is the difference between UVA and UVB?

~ What does SPF measure?

~ What does broad spectrum mean?

~ Is wearing sunscreen on a cloudy day beneficial or myth?

If you are unclear on any of these, make sure to read on.

What is the difference between a physical sunscreen and chemical sunscreen?

 ~ Physical sunscreen, sometimes called mineral sunscreens, deflect the sun’s rays. Ingredients include Zinc Oxide and Titanium Dioxide

 ~ Chemical sunscreens have filters that absorb and scatter the sun’s rays. Ingredients may include Octocrylene, Oxybenzone, Avobenzone, Octinoxate, Homosalate & Octisalate.

I am definitely concerned with the absorbing/scattering action offered by the chemical sunscreen ingredients, and how that action may affect my health.

FACT: Chemical sunscreen ingredients are not photo-stable.

These active ingredients break down and degrade in the sun, becoming less stable on the skin. A less stable environment along with the action of absorbing the UV light has been shown to create free radicals that can cause DNA damage and lead to cancers. There is also plenty of research indicating that chemical sunscreens are hormone disruptors. Umm… my hormones do not need that!

This has caused some huge debate on whether chemical sunscreens are doing more harm than good. Some say the risks associated with the damaging rays of the sun outweigh the risks associated with the free radical and DNA damage associated with chemical sunscreens. Here are a couple of tips to know when you are using a chemical SPF.

  • Make sure when using a chemical sunscreen, to re-apply often to keep the active chemical ingredients photo-stable. Free radicals become a concern when these active chemical ingredients break down and become unstable from sun exposure, but remain on your skin while you are absorbing UV rays.
  • A second way to nip that free radical damage is to use antioxidants under your SPF. There is plenty of research stating the effectiveness of doing this. I use Luzern’s Radiance Serum on my face and neck under my SPF. It is a Vitamin C serum, PLUS it is filled with Swiss Alpine extracts, anti-inflammatories, and melanin inhibitors. This is a perfect product to provide extra support for the skin and if you struggle with uneven pigmentation (which I do).

I will admit, I have and occasionally still do use chemical sunscreens. In reality, these types of sunscreens tend to have lighter formulations that blend easily and “rub in” better. They are also more readily available in stores. But, because of the controversy and conflicting information regarding their safety, I definitely opt for the deflecting action provided by physical sunscreens when possible.

I also prefer physical sunscreen because physical sunscreen ingredients stay photo- stable on your skin while in the sun.

Physical sunscreens sit more on top of the skin and tend to be a bit heavier… and maybe even leave a whitish cast to the skin. Newer formulations use Micronized Zinc Oxide to solve and address this issue. BUT, there is a catch…. there is also conflicting research about weather these nano-particles can get into the blood stream.

There just always seems to be a something! We can read articles and cite various studies, but unless we are in a lab dedicating our life to this subject we just have to make our best, educated decision.

I have seen and analyzed many skin types over the years, and have witnessed firsthand what happens when you don’t wear SPF and take your skin health seriously. The lovely Image Pro machine I used at the medical spa shows it all!

And so, if I were at the beach or pool and faced with the decision of wearing no sunscreen, with the potential of burning, or wearing a chemical sunscreen, I would opt for the latter. Going without SPF is not an option for me and shouldn’t be for you.

I know what the next question is… what about harnessing the nourishing benefits from the sun to protect yourself from certain types of cancer and keep proper vitamin D levels? I say harness sister, but you only need about 15minutes… then apply your SPF!

I think some FACTS on UVA and UVB will give you a better understanding of why SPF protection is important. SO….

What is the difference between UVA and UVB rays?


 UVA is known as the aging ray

  • UVA is 50x more prevalent than UVB and is responsible for 95% of our sun exposure
  • UVA is not affected by weather, clouds, time of day, season or altitude.
  • UVA is always present and is the same strength all day, every day of the year.
  • UVA can pass through glass.
  • UVA is a longer ray that penetrates deeply into the skin layers damaging collagen and cells, increasing your risk for cancer
  • UVA is responsible for wrinkles, hyperpigmentation, and loss of elasticity


  •  UVB is know as the burning ray
  • UVB does not penetrate as deeply and affects the outer layers of the skin
  • UVB is responsible for burning and tanning which increase your risk of cancer
  • UVB rays vary throughout the time of day and season

From the above facts I feel like I have just answered the question… is it important to wear sunscreen in the cooler months and on cloudy days etc.? The answer is obviously a big fat YES!

Do not underestimate the UVA ray and the damage it causes to your skin cells. It is a major contributor to your risk of cancer, cell damage, and age-related skin concerns.

 When you decide to walk your dog on a cloudy January morning you may not get a sunburn, but you will be absorbing just as much UVA as you would sitting by the pool on a sunny afternoon in June. Granted it is not your whole body being exposed like when you are in a bathing suit at the pool, but your face, neck and hands are getting more than their fair share. It’s no wonder that these are the areas that “show your age” first.

This is definitely some information to take into consideration if you use any type of topical skin prescription from the dermatologist such as Retin A etc. or if you use AHA’s (alpha-hydroxy acids). These sorts of products may cause sensitivity and amplify the damaging effects of the sun’s rays. And anyone struggling with melasma or hyperpigmentation should really take note. The smallest amount of exposure sets off tyrosinase, which is the enzyme in your skin cells responsible for creating melanin, which will result in brown patches or erratic pigmentation for those with these conditions.

Hyperpigmentation is a serious problem for me. And as noted above, one of the reasons why I use Luzern’s Radiance Serum Absolute under my SPF.

What does SPF stand for and what does it measure?

 SPF stands for Sun Protection Factor and is an indication of the level of protection you are receiving for only the UVB (burning) ray.

So is 100spf better than 30spf?

100spf is not necessarily better. This is the type of labeling that makes purchasing products so confusing and misleading, and in this case gives the consumer a false idea about the amount of protection they actually are getting.

There is an actual mathematical equation that can help you figure out how long you can stay in the sun before you get burned when using a particular level of SPF, but I find it to be confusing and there are too many variables that can affect the answer.

I think knowing the percentage of UVB that is being blocked is most helpful. Did you know…

  • SPF 15 filters out 93% of UVB
  • SPF 30 filters out 97% of UVB
  • SPF 50 filters out 98% of UVB
  • There is not a sunscreen available that can block 100% of UV rays

The above facts have now answered why it is not really necessary to wear more than SPF 30.

As a rule, you need to reapply every 2 hours, and maybe more when you take into consideration your skin type, sweating, swimming, and toweling off. Also, make sure you are wearing the appropriate formula for the situation…. What you wear around town for errands is not always what you might wear at the beach.

If you are using a chemical sunscreen, make sure you apply it 30 minutes before actually swimming or being out in the sun. It takes that long for it to bind to the skin and begin working. And I’ll re-state from above…. don’t forget to re-apply to keep those active ingredients photo- stable!

Physical sunscreens are effective immediately!

Make sure to apply (and re-apply) the proper amount! This isn’t a time to be skimpy. You should be applying a shot-glass full for full body coverage.

What does broad spectrum mean?

 Broad Spectrum simply means that the sunscreen protects from both UVA and UVB.

The below chart clearly shows the level of protection received from the different sunscreen ingredients. Zinc oxide is the obvious winner!


My favorite sunscreen:

 Gosh, it is hard to pick a sunscreen that is all around perfect and there may not be a perfect sunscreen as there will always be a trade off.

“I’ll trade in my slightly less than perfect SPF for this all organic thick white greasy consistency that feels horrible and I’ll never actually wear” LOL!

My favorite physical block sunscreen is Elta MD UV Physical SPF 41 Tinted, which I use on my face. It contains 9% zinc oxide and 7.0% titanium dioxide. EltaMD UV Pure SPF 47 is my other favorite which I use for body coverage and contains 10% zinc oxide and 5.5% titanium oxide.

Both sunscreens are fragrance-free, oil-free, paraben- free, sensitivity-free, non-comedogenic, and won’t burn or irritate the eyes. They also both have an elegant silky application and feel good to use. With an excellent rating of 2 or less with EWG (Environmental Working Group)… these SPF products are winners!!

I love the bit of tint provided by the Elta MD UV Physical SPF 41. It blends in magically to just about every skin type and keeps you from looking like Casper. I love how the tint softly diffuses redness on the face, and evens out the skin tone so you don’t feel so bare-faced at the pool or beach. It offers excellent broad-spectrum and antioxidant protection, with a wonderful texture and consistency that I look forward to applying. It never breaks me out and is perfect for my highly sensitive skin. I wear this as a base all summer and apply some bronzer and blush right over the top…. add a little lip-gloss and… voilà.

This product is rated a 2 on the EWG page and while it is not perfect (meaning all organic and stuff) it is pretty darned good.

The EltaMD UV Pure Broad Spectrum SPF 47 is perfect for the pool and beach and safe for the kiddos. It blends easily, is gentle and lightweight. Overall, it is very pleasant to use on my sensitive and reactive skin. This product is rated a 1 by EWG.

Of course, sunscreen is only part of the equation. Depending on the situation you are in, wide-brimmed hats, sunglasses, protective clothing, and avoiding the sun at peak times are all things to take into consideration.

My last two cents, I LOVE THE SUN, I NEED THE SUN. My whole being is affected when I do not get enough sunshine. I am an esthetician, but I am not afraid of the sun… and you will see me at the pool or beach sometimes with a towel over my head (I really am fanatical about sun exposure on my face because my battle with discoloration and brown patches is serious), but my legs will be positioned in the sun with some hopes of getting a little color on them. YES! I am not ashamed to say that is true. Just be smart about it and don’t get burned. If you are the color of Scotch tape you won’t be able to get away with that 😉 Everything is about BALANCE and living consciously.

Enjoy this Ted Ed video! Watch out for the flying diaper in this video…hahaha!

Here is another link to a list of healthy sunscreens. I would love to be able to test them all, but that is expensive and timely. Keep me posted if you choose to try any.

The Ultimate Safe Sunscreen Guide: Your Go To Cheat Sheet